I didn’t Leave Bernie, He Left Me
How I can agree with Bernie Sanders’ ideas and still not want to vote for him.
I’m a liberal and Bernie Sanders is a Democratic Socialist. Both of us have our roots in good old FDR blue collar pragmatism. I thought, way back in 2011, when I wrote glowingly about him, that if he ever decided to run for president I would be first in line to cheer him on.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, held the senate floor for 90 minutes yesterday, talking directly to President Obama, pleading, cajoling, scolding — begging the president to take the lead on obvious things like lifting the poor and the downtrodden out of the depths, protecting them from any more grief, and demanding that the rich pay their fair share of U.S. taxes.
He was voicing everything I believed and he was one of the very few. I wanted to go on liking him. I wanted it so much I went on pretending long after I had grown squeamish about what I was seeing from him.
I wanted to believe his shouting and his finger-wagging were simply signs that he was immersed in wanting to do the right thing, but he smirked. He smirked a lot. And it was his haughty, knowing grin whenever his audience reacted to his many accusations that convinced me this was not someone calling for solidarity.
In time it became clear that his idea of doing the right thing was to build himself up by attacking any Democrat who wasn’t willing to go along. He latched onto “establishment Democrats”, “corporate Democrats”, and encouraged the term “neo-libs”. He kept it up long after the 2016 primaries, when he should have been joining the Dems in supporting not only Hillary Clinton but every Democrat working to get elected in every city, county, state, or federal battleground.
He didn’t do that. He balked at everything, including handing the primary vote over to Hillary when it was clearly long past time. He talked up “revolution”, pushing his followers to stick with him long after the space between the primaries and the general election had closed behind him. He tolerated chaos from his own ranks when what we needed desperately was unity. His was a mission unto himself and the Democrats he refused to join up with had no place in it.
I wrote this about Bernie in May, 2016:
It comes down to this: Bernie is my first choice as revolutionary leader. As revolutionary leaders go, Bernie ranks right up there at the top. But if Bernie should win the presidency, his days as a radical revolutionary leader are over. He wouldn’t in a million years be able to accomplish as much as he might if he stays on the outside pressing for the goals he has outlined during his campaign…
…A president has to be all things to all people. The leader of a revolution has to stay focused on the cause. Bernie, if he wins, won’t be able to do that and he’ll disappoint the people who are counting on him to make radical change. They’ll start a revolution without him, or in spite of him, or against him.
I haven’t changed my mind. Donald Trump may have shown us what the true Dark Side looks like when it gains ultimate power, but the Democratic presidential candidate can’t be a frothing revolutionary. Some would like to think we’ve moved that far to the left, but we haven’t. And we shouldn’t.
I’ve never been convinced that Democrats shine as a party when they move away from wanting to be allies to all Americans, and not just some Americans. We’re not the party of dividers. We’re at our best when we’re lifting each other up, not dragging each other down.
I submit that Barack Obama’s popularity stayed constant mainly because he refused to get down in the mud. He refused to attack his allies or to get vicious when he was going after his enemies. He understood — and admired — the honor and the obligations of his office, and he’ll be remembered for that, long after Donald Trump disappears into the twilight.
I am a Democrat. I’ve been a Democrat for more than 60 years and, no matter how frustrated or disappointed I am in my political family, I’ll never be anything else. I will always vote the party.
I can say that, knowing there are entire factions out there still promoting a “hold your nose” policy when it comes to Democrats, or worse, a lean toward, “No other Democrat is good enough so it has to be fill in the blank, or else.”
There are ways of doing battle without digging in the dirt. The Democrats must always take the high road. It doesn’t make us weak, it makes us right. We take the high road by showing what we’ve learned over the years — that we can and must help others while helping ourselves. We don’t see kindness as weakness. We can be revolutionaries without losing our way. Our eyes are on the prize and our prize is a country working toward the common good.
Bernie Sanders never became that Democrat. He relished the chaos in 2016 and did nothing to calm the waters. His talking points never became action. His talk of being a champion of women or people of color, for example, is still more fluff than substance.
His followers have built a long-lasting cult around him, and he’s using them again to rise to the top. I sincerely hoped he wouldn’t do that, but since he has, I’m out. I haven’t decided on a candidate yet, but I do know Bernie Sanders won’t be my choice for the primaries. (If he wins the primaries, I’ll deal with it and support him. Because that’s what Democrats have to do.)
The defeat of Donald Trump is essential if we’re ever going to get those programs that both the left and the moderates agree need fixing. We can only defeat him if we work together. When Bernie shows signs of wanting to work together, I’ll come back and write a different story. But until then, this one will have to stand.
Ramona Grigg is an essayist and former columnist who writes on Medium and in other places about politics, advocacy, writing, and the human condition. Her political blog, Ramona’s Voices, ran for more than 10 years. She’s the editor of Indelible Ink, a Medium publication.
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